Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and a member of the jury on Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. He has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
Erik Reichenbach is a former two time Survivor Fan/Favorite and Comic Book Artist. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikReichenb4ch.
“You have to keep searching. Keep looking in every nook and cranny. The people who find idols in this game are the people who are working hardest in this game.” — Mike Holloway, winner, Survivor: Worlds Apart
It’s often impossible for players to second-guess their Survivor fates. Looking back after a loss – when the jury votes come in or your torch is snuffed – you can rarely point to just one thing that cost you the victory. A thousand considerations factor into every choice a contestant makes, and it can be a quixotic task to separate one decision from another.
That said, if/when Ben wins this game, the losing finalists should know that they lost Survivor this episode, when they were lazing around camp talking about bagels rather than shadowing Ben around the island.
How is it possible that someone who is universally agreed to be the biggest threat and the next target is allowed to romp around the Fijian jungles digging for idols? Yes, it’s day 36 and everybody is tired. But you have three days left in a game for a million dollars. Time to find that second wind. Stick to the guy like dirt(?) on Tarzan’s undies.
WATCH: Former Survivor Contestants Talk Final Threes
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Ben wins the Fishy this week for putting in the hard work and finding the idol. Ben’s game is reminiscent of Mike Holloway’s from Worlds Apart. Both players were initially part of large and dominant alliances, but eventually they alienated their allies and had to scramble every episode to stay ahead of the vote. It’s hard to gauge from this side of the TV screen whether Ben has earned the ire of his tribe because he’s misplayed or because he’s inherently a giant target. I typically side with Dr. Mike who said, “Survivor is not just about blindsides and lying to people and tricking people. It’s played between those blindsides.” But sometimes, when you’re a war veteran with a stellar game resume, there’s just nothing you can do to make new allies.
Meanwhile, the rest of the contestants somehow spend the episode debating whether or not to vote out Ashley. Chrissy thinks Ashley isn’t trustworthy, and that there are plenty of opportunities later to take care of Ben. “There’s two more tribals before we get to the final three,” she says.
Many losing finalists, myself included, can tell you that there just aren’t enough votes to get rid of all the jury threats. People who’d never won an individual immunity before can win three in a row. It’s mind-boggling to watch these contestants being so cavalier about the biggest threat in the game. My head almost imploded when Chrissy told her tribe, “I may make a late game decision based on my gut at tribal.” That is literally the exact opposite of what anybody in the game wants to hear. “We can make any plan we want, but I may just ruin it all at the last minute. Cool?”
Credit to Dr. Mike for speaking reason. “We have an opportunity to get this guy out. Get him the f— out.” And even more credit to Ashley herself, who came up with the one sensible plan of the episode – split the votes between Dr. Mike and Ben – and was promptly ignored.
At Tribal Council, Ben pulls out his idol. Major props to Devon for keeping a cool head. It’s been 16 seasons since Russell Hantz first pulled the “I’ve got an idol around my neck” move. Just about every time a player does it, they end up both avoiding the vote and hanging onto their idol. As soon as people see that little talisman, they react like Ashley and lose the power of speech.
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But Devon stays strategically sharp. “Everyone remember that just because it’s around his neck right now doesn’t mean he’s going to play it,” he says. When Ben tries to make a deal, Devon refuses to do so until Ben gets up and hands Probst the idol. This little exchange could change the way that idols are played moving forward. #gamechangers
With Ben off the docket, the tribe votes out Ashley – maybe just based on the momentum of Chrissy’s ire. It seems like another major missed opportunity. Why not vote Devon or Dr. Mike? As the last Healer left, Dr. Mike would have an amazing case to make at the finals.
It’s true that we as viewers can’t always assess how the tribe themselves ranks jury threats. I remember being shocked when the Survivor: South Pacific cast told me that Brandon Hantz would easily have swept the votes if he made it to the end on that season. (It’s still mind-boggling to consider.)
But at least from my living room, Ashley looked like one of the least threatening players left. It seems that 36 days in, the strains of a game with no food, little sleep, and constant stress have finally gotten to these contestants’ heads. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.